The company proposing a sprawling private spa and waterpark at Ontario Place declined Friday to reveal the length of its lease with the province, but said it’s open to public input on its design plans with consultations set to begin.
Simon Bredin, senior manager of communications and public engagement at Therme Canada, would only say that the Austria-based company signed a “multi-year lease” that will also see it invest millions of dollars into public spaces at the waterfront site.
The province is still in ongoing negotiations with other potential tenants, limiting Therme’s ability to be more transparent about the specifics of the lease, according to Bredin.
“I think to talk about that in more detail would undermine (the provincial government’s) ability to negotiate. But again, it’s a multi-year lease,” he told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
Therme is proposing a complete, and controversial, overhaul of the West Island at Ontario Place. The centrepiece of the pitch is a 65,000-square-metre, seven-storey indoor private “wellness centre” and waterpark. The site would also have roughly 12 acres of public parkland, including a new beach, boardwalk and biking trails.
As part of its deal, Therme would use revenue from the spa to pay the province to upkeep the public spaces, Bredin said.
“We actually think this arrangement where a private business that has a ticketed attraction pays to support the improved public realm is the right model for Ontario Place,” he told host David Common.
The broader plan for Ontario Place also includes about $650 million from the province to upgrade existing infrastructure and preserve heritage elements of the site, such as the Cinesphere and pods, and new concert venue to be built in partnership with Live Nation.
Premier Doug Ford also strongly hinted Thursday that the Ontario Science Centre will be moved to the Ontario Place grounds. Bredin said that the Science Centre would make a “great potential neighbour” for the Therme development.
He said that the private space built and operated by Therme would ultimately amount to just over 10 per cent of the total Ontario Place grounds, while 75 per cent of the site would remain public.
One of the most vocal critics of the ongoing redevelopment plan is Coun. Ausma Malik, who represents Spadina–Fort York where Ontario Place is located. While the first public consultations on the proposal are scheduled for the weekend and next week, Malik says the province’s process so far has been “really opaque” and has failed to “respect the voices” of Torontonians.
“Ontario Place has been valued for generations…. It is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on the waterfront in North America and we have to take that really, really seriously,” she told Metro Morning in an interview this week.
Malik is a member of the Toronto and East York Community Council, which held a meeting Tuesday to hear city staff’s first public update on their ongoing review of the province’s development application. The meeting ultimately ran nearly 12 hours and heard from dozens of deputants opposed to the spa.
Briden said he also attended the meeting and said the company is still in the early stages of the public consultation process.
“I think what you’re hearing is the passion and commitment to getting this right,” he said of criticism of the current plan. “We think that our mix of destination programming and improved public parks is the right mix.”
City staff published a status report in late March with some of their initial feedback on the application. They highlighted that the proposed 22,000-square-metre, 26-metre-high entrance building that would connect the mainland to the West Island (where the spa could be built) is so big that it “overwhelms the public realm.”
Staff also concluded that a five-level underground parking garage — that combined with surface parking would provide space for nearly 2,700 vehicles — would defy established city and provincial planning policy that stresses public transportation over private vehicles. According to current plans, the province would be on the hook for the costs of building the parking garage.
Meanwhile, city staff also recommended that Infrastructure Ontario undergo an environmental assessment of the project, given that Therme’s redevelopment of the West Island would include significant shoreline work and lakefilling. The province has thus far declined to do an assessment.
The majority of the Ontario Place grounds are provincially-owned, but Malik said the city does have some “levers” it could use to influence the redevelopment process.
“We have land approvals. We also have a piece of really critical land right in the heart of Ontario Place — that we own — that is such an important piece of how we talk about what a better vision is for Ontario Place and how we move forward,” she said.
LISTEN | Malik explains her criticisms of the Ontario Place redevelopment plan:
Metro Morning8:25Spadina-Fort York councillor Ausma Malik wants to ensure Ontario Place stays public
That 16-acre block of city-owned land is supposed to go to the province as part of a land swap deal. But Malik said Toronto could delay that transfer if necessary.
“We have to take real care to make sure that we are negotiating and defending the best interests of this city with every tool that we have,” she added.
The future of Ontario Place has already featured on the campaign trail in Toronto’s ongoing mayoral byelection. Candidates Josh Matlow and Ana Bailão have said they would push for the spa to be scrapped, while others have suggested that a compromise could be reached with more public input.